GREEN'S SYMPHONY FOR GUITARS AND FLUTES
HOW symphonic can a guitar ensemble sound?
Edward Green, an American composer who is on the
faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, asked that question, and the
result was his Chamber Symphony for an ensemble of eight guitars,
flute, and two alto flutes.
Unlike some other attempts at guitar symphonies,
like those of Glenn Branca, Edward Green uses only acoustic guitar. He
added the three flutes, however, after having first sketched the symphony
as a quartet for guitars alone. 'I came
to see,' said Green, in programme notes written for the symphony's premiere
on 9 March, with David Starobin conducting the guitar ensemble of the State
University of New York, 'that the guitar sound would be at its most beautiful
if it was in the presence of an opposite type of sound, and flute seemed
best to me'.
In speaking with Edward Green, I learned that
the idea of music as opposites pervades his thought. 'I learned from Eli
Siegel, the founder of the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism,' Green told
me, 'that all beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of
opposites is what we are going after in ourselves. I try to be fair to
this idea as I compose'.
The symphony begins with a flourish:
which leads directly into an allegro ritmico
movement in sonata form, powered by this five measure motif:
While the first movement accents energy, the second
movement is more introspective. It is an extended fantasy, based on this
simple opening theme:
'My purpose in this movement', said the composer,
'was to try to give a portrait of mind when it is troubled, ill at ease
with itself. I wanted to write something that had a combination of iciness
and fever. I found it challenging to try to give a beautiful form to these
This movement is very diverse, with passages
of overlapping ostinati, hammered dissonant chords, gentle flute
harmonies, and one extended section built over what sounds like a bass
guitar riff from a rock band, only changed into something more atonal.
The final movement is an allegro di molto,
written in rondo form. Like Haydn's concluding rondos, this rondo,
full of good nature. The main theme is a humorous modern look at the style
of the 14th century, the period of Landini and Machaut:
The symphony is just under 20 minutes in length.
'The sound of the guitar is beautiful,'
Edward Green told me, 'because it puts opposites together, especially the
opposites of hardness and softness. There is an immediacy to the sound
of a guitar, and also a suggestiveness, a resonance. Throughout the symphony
I had this in mind; I was hoping to take this essence of the guitar and
give it a large canvas, give it room to show itself in many different moods,
many different circumstances. This matters because every person is like
a guitar -- we all are both hard and soft, tough-minded and sentimental.
I thought if I could do something beautiful with the opposites in the sound
and the technique of the guitar, it might make for large emotions in an
To this listener's ears, at least, that purpose